TVR: A sad story that’s close to home


All the way back in 1958, yours truly was born in a hospital in Blackpool, England, a North-West Coast holiday resort and the rest is history, I’m deluded enough to think. Eleven years earlier, in the same town, the sports car company TVR came to life and what began was one of the saddest stories in British automotive history.

When Trevor Wilkinson (the company was named TreVoR after him) and his partner Jack Rickard built that first alloy framed car on a tubular chassis, I doubt they envisaged what a huge impact that the company would have on how sports cars were built from that point forward. Each vehicle was hand built at the Blackpool factory, and through the late 1950′s and early 1960′s, TVR became known as the baseline for the rawest, racing car experience that a driver could get from a production car. When Wilkinson and Rickard retired from the company in 1962, it was taken over by Martin Lilley, who started to use 4cyl Ford engines as the standard TVR power plants.

Through the 1970′s, successively different motors were used and the TVR brand was being marketed, somewhat unsuccessfully across the Atlantic in the United States by an East Coast car dealer Jack Griffith. Griffith saw the brand as a way to further his own financial success but it wasn’t long before the first dark shadow of bankruptcy loomed into view as the Griffith business sank into insolvency. When Peter Wheeler bought TVR in 1981, his enthusiastic nature took the car back into the world of V8 engines and a partnership with Rover lasted for several years. The Rover V8 motor (built by Bucik incidentally) was eventually modified into an alloy V8 to reduce weight and under Wheeler’s watch, TVR produced some iconic sport cars that excited owners around the world not only with their race car performance but with their inspiring names. Cars such as the Chimaera, Griffith, Cerbera, Tuscan, Tamora, T350, Typhon and Sagaris were all examples of British design ingenuity and led the brand into the 21st Century.

In 2004, TVR was purchased by a Russian millionaire named Nikolai Smolensky and with demand dropping from 10-12 cars per week down to 3-4 per week, it was clear that this iconic car company was in trouble. Smolensky sent mixed messages about how he saw the company’s future but none of his ideas came to fruition. After splitting the company up, and closing down the Blackpool factory, the TVR name has now been relegated to the production of wind turbines following several failed attempts to re-launch the company.

The attraction of the TVR brand was always its closeness to raw performance. If ever you wanted a “hair on fire”, fire-breathing, death-defying experience in a production car, the TVR’s were it. Stripped of interior comforts and void of safety devices, they were nevertheless exquisitely built by top class designers and mechanics who knew what it took to produce excitement on the road. TVR were never run-of-the-mill and were closer to eccentric than they were conventional but they were typically British in their attitude to car manufacture. Build a car that people enjoy, and the rest takes care of itself. The problem is that attitude would get you through the 60′s and 70′s but not any further. Business and marketing also play huge parts now.

If you fancy a drive in a TVR, there are still some units around, and they are still a staple in racing computer and video games, but they are unfortunately a reminder of just how enjoyable British sports cars could be to drive, but also how fragile their world became.

A hometown success story TVR definitely wasn’t.

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